How a place changes the way you think

21 December 2019
3 min read

The nature vs. nurture battle has been ongoing for centuries.  I started thinking about this early last year after going to CNU26 (Congress for New Urbanism) in relationship to how humans can better construct humane environments for themselves. While a lot of research and debate is around whether urban or suburban environments are better for humans (most research points towards living near bodies of water because looking at them makes us calmer), I've been thinking about this at a higher level. How does the culture of a place affect an individual?

For example, living in San Francisco or New York (where there are more working professionals), you're more likely to get married later. Why is that? There are more numbers of young working professionals prioritizing setting up their career before starting a family in those cities. With larger numbers of those people, the higher the likelihood that you may be friends and/or acquaintances with those people. At some point, they will influence you (whether through giving advice, through role modelling, etc) to also potentially prioritize the same things they do (i.e. getting married later).

In contrast, smaller more conservative places (the Midwest for example), may have a larger number of people that have children earlier because their friends and peers prioritize that. Obviously, this is a gross blanket statement in predicting behaviors and understanding influences of humans. However, there is some fruit to think about here. If certain personalities are attracted to certain environments, how can we create better more balanced cities to encourage better behaviors?

Having lived in one kind of city bubble, I see this manifesting in different ways in the Bay Area:

1. Perception of $$$. With lots of young people (many straight out of college), making close to or over $100,000, their perception of money is skewed. While the standard of living is quite high, the amount of disposable income is quite absurd. In my opinion, it's what keeps the bars open.

2. Competitiveness. From doing triathlons to competitive yoga (not kidding), there is competition in relaxing (how many minutes did you meditate? what app do you use?) alongside your professional career.

3. Transience. With the understanding that you are here for your career, people don't invest themselves into the local community. It breeds a culture of transplants where cliques form around people you know.

And as we think about these as potential points of culture we want to change, we've forgotten the environment that they exist in:

1. A place with amazing weather. For those with health problems, this is a great mecca for healing and recovering that is overshadowed.

2. With what comes with amazing weather is amazing produce. The agricultural community is strong and there is something about connecting with the land.

3. Different types of landscapes in close radius. Being able to ski AND go to the beach within a 2-hour drive in different directions.

So how could we possibly pop the tech bubble with these considerations? Immigration serves as a great analogy here. Much like migration quotas, we could see cities as places requiring regulation of the population. For example, we could we only allow engineers that also grow their own produce? Or financial analysts who are required to do volunteer hours? Obviously, these are slightly absurd examples, but the provocation exists, how do you mold a culture to take a step in the direction that benefits humanity? (and maybe the underlying question is who decides that?)


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I acknowledge and pay respect to the Traditional Custodians on whose land I live, play, and work. I pay my deepest respects to all Indigenous Elders past, present and emerging.

© Feb 2024 Vinita Israni
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